Everyone knows that you don’t pass up a kid’s lemonade stand. When you come upon a handmade sign, a wobbly card table and an icy pitcher of lemonade, you buy a cup. If the beverage looks a little sketchy, you don’t say, “no thanks, I’m not thirsty,” you say, “Yum. I think I’ll save this for later,” and you walk down the road a bit and pour it out behind a bush. Lemonade stands are not about thirst. You never, ever decline a cup.

Being an author is a little like having a lemonade stand; particularly if you’re doing a lot of the promotion and marketing yourself. You lug your card table and books and banners and bookmarks to whichever event is scheduled for that weekend; craft fairs, bookstores, library events, or conferences. You set up shop, hoping that the hundreds of people expected to attend will clean you out of your box of books and your pile of postcards. And sometimes I’ve seen that happen. To the guy next to me. Lots of folks walk up to my table, smile and say hello, ask me, “are you the author?”, snag one of the chocolates I usually bring and take a business card without so much as a dime crossing hands. The thing is, no one is ever obligated to buy my book, but from what I’ve heard from some other authors, that is what they expect. They think it is exactly like having a lemonade stand.

I disagree. These authors--and they are not in the majority--have expressed to me that it makes them angry when a person comes up to them at a book signing or other author event and simply asks questions. They feel their time is being monopolized, especially if the person doesn’t buy a book. Don’t even get them started if this poor soul moseys on down to the next author and buys their book!  

Don’t get me wrong--when I’ve lugged 150 pounds of books and promotional items halfway across a field at the latest festival, I’d LOVE some sales. But when that doesn’t happen, I am just as happy to have made the acquaintance of dozens of people who take the time to talk to me. At the risk of putting too Pollyanna a spin on this, I’m so happy to have finally published my book and have it out there, that anyone’s interest in my book is gratifying. To clarify even further how I feel about it, how I feel is--fine.  

I am fine with someone coming up to me at a writer’s conference and asking me for advice on publishers, just not the self-publishing kind. That “self-published” label still concerns some people and if they are expecting to hear horror stories from me, they’ve come to the wrong girl.  My experience with She Writes Press has been positive from day one. Choosing SWP has given me an education in publishing I would never have gotten had I gone with a traditional publisher--not that any traditional publishers were knocking at my door. It was good for me to learn as much as I did about how to bring a book into the world. I liked it. I’m going to do it again!

I am fine with standing at my booth at a festival or fair and having people come up, ask me about my book, pick up a few tchotchkes and move on. I’ve been on my feet for over 5 hours and only credited three sales for the day, but even those days feel successful to me.

I am fine with being at a book signing, an event specifically planned for me and my book, and not having many people show up. I hope it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does (and it did) it’s still a good time.  Most people seem genuinely excited and supportive talking to a Real Live Author. At a signing, most who attend will buy a book, but not always, and that’s okay.

I know that my feelings about this might be vastly different from other authors’ and I am fine with that, too. I'm not here to judge how anyone makes sense of their own experience with their own work. Books have a huge and personal impact on people, for both the reader and the writer, creating worlds when they have none or inspiring them through their darkest times. It’s certainly not up to me to decide when someone should choose my book, but it’s definitely up to me to understand that they might not. 

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  • Thanks for the responses, all. What a nice treat to read them. Juliana, I love your tale about the woman who didn't realize poetry didn't have to rhyme...isn't that something? We all have such expectations about what people "know" and then it's such a surprise to find out differently! Thanks for your consideration and your comment... all of you! 

  • Juliana Lightle

    Have been considering this post since you wrote it.  When my book of poetry, "On the Rim of Wonder", came out two years ago, I already knew poetry books rarely hit best seller lists.  When people, mostly women, come up to me and tell me they loved my book or that it inspired them, then I realize I have met one of my biggest goals, to change lives for the better, to inspire.  At a reading recently, one woman came to me, said she loved my poetry, and that she did not realize poems did not have to rhyme.  I was a bit shocked but thought to myself, "Well, she learned something new and perhaps will now read more poetry, even if it is not mine."  

  • Suzy Soro

    The only successful author I saw with promotional gizmos had a little video playing. No bookmarks (I've been in 2 books that offered those, seems like a waste of money)no nail files (another waste)and having used postcards for my acting career, I wouldn't do them for books. Unless I was selling a ton of books, then I'd do promotional tools. The person with the video (this was a few years ago, all I remember was that it was a man) had it playing on a not too small nor too large monitor. It was not a funny book but he made the video man on the street and it was pretty funny. He had no other promotional tools, thus eliminating the person who picks up a postcard and says, "I'll be back, I'm just going to look around." 

  • Jill Hannah Anderson

    My first book will be published next spring and this is a great way to look at the process. I also look at it from a book buyer's POV... I absolutely love to read too, but can't buy every book I want. Authors understand this (I hope.) I may end up getting their book from the library, or a friend, but even though I may not buy their book, if I read and like it, I review it and let everyone know about it.

    Hopefully I'll remember this next year! :)

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Well said, Cindy. Your generosity of spirit inspires me!

  • Stacey Aaronson

    Love your perspective on this topic ... thank you for your wisdom and honesty! I'll definitely remember your words when I have my first "lemonade stand" of books. :)

  • I love this conversation, it's so positive and honest! (And I think everyone gets the politicians analogy ;) This is great...thank you all for the comments. 

  • JoAnn Smith Ainsworth

    I agree. Each event gets your name out into the community and each bookmark you hand out is a chance the book will be bought as an ebook and capture a new reader.

  • maggie brooke

    I agree. Although I go to markets for the purpose of selling books I wouldn't keep doing it if I didn't love the atmosphere, the people who stop for a chat and just being part of the market culture. I seldom make $$ but I always have fun!

  • Julie Powers Schoerke

    Cindy, thank you! A terrific perspective. I compare authors to those running for public office in some ways - you kiss a lot of babies, not knowing which families are going to vote for you while you're on the campaign trail..but it sure increases your chances of getting the vote when you pose for a selfie with them or coo over a baby (in this year of elections, I'm guessing everybody gets that analogy!). You never know what conversation could lead to an incredible opportunity on down the road for you or your book...or what good karma you're putting out in the world as an author that will come back to you at some point for your helping another person through conversation. 

  • Avril Somerville

    It's never personal. Your perspective is a healthy one. I'm of the belief that those who need what you have will find it. It is never a pleasant experience to be coaxed into buying something that you might not need or want. Your approach is more holistic and aligned with those of us writers who are in it for the long haul, who understand all too well that everyone has both a unique voice and ear, that it is never a personal diss when someone doesn't buy our books. When I vend at a book fair, I always end up leaving feeling a bit more connected to something greater because of the connections and conversations I have with readers (including window shoppers) whom I would have never had the chance of meeting otherwise.

  • Well-said, Cindy. And what a great attitude. I don't think it's Pollyanna at all. I think you're it's realistic and mature. From the moment I got a contract for my memoir with a small university press last year, I felt that it was a success, and every step forward has given me deep satisfaction. When DYING IN DUBAI come out on Oct 1st, and I begin going from event to event, I intend to enjoy the attendees, just as you have, and to consider any sales icing on the cake! Thank you.

  • Whew. Thanks, all, for your lovely comments. When I clicked "Publish" I wasn't sure how this post would be received, so I am happy to hear from you!  This part is fine with me, too! :) Thank you all so much. 

  • Viv Drewa

    I'll be doing my first book signing next summer and really loved this article. I was worried about how things might unfold for me and now feel I'll be able to handle any situation. I love speaking with people so that won't bother me, not having anyone buy my books, well, it'll be a bummer, but as long as I get my work out there is good enough for me now.

  • Karen Elizabeth Lee

    Hi!  I agree with you especially on your comments about a book signing.  When you have a book launch you expect that most people are there because they are interested in your book and what you have to say, but a signing in a book store.  People who happen upon you when they enter a book store like Chapters may be intrigued, but they won't necessarily buy your book. They might but they might just pass it by when they find out what it is about. That is fine for me - I don't want anyone to feel they HAVE to buy my book - but I do encourage them to take a postcard or book mark - they usually take the book marks and maybe, just maybe, someone might see it and want to buy the book.

  • Jan M. Flynn

    Well said. What book festival-goers choose to buy is entirely up to them, and they're under no obligation to us. Keeping that in mind will keep an author happier and probably more successful in the long run!

  • Diane Dahli

    I'm writing every day, and can hardly wait to get to this point! I will happily adopt your positive attitude.

  • Susan B Marcus

    Thank you for pointing out the pleasure of conversations with passers-by at book fair, et al. It's fun to meet them, learn what they're looking for in a book, and even feel some trepidation if they buy my book (I worry that they'll be disappointed). SheWrites, I need a pep talk! 

  • Amen! Thanks for putting this all in perspective.

  • Trudy Swenson

    Yes! Buy the lemonade--always, even if it's got bugs in it.

    But don't drink the Koolaid of self-righteousness and entitlement. It won't sustain you.

    Stay humble. It is character-building and in the long run it will earn the respect of others.